Release days are like birthdays, and the O2 Academy in Leicester feels like it is about to throw one hell of a birthday party rather than a gig. For Be More Kind, album number seven, folk-punk troubadour Frank Turner shies away from the acoustic guitar in an attempt to experiment with instrumentation and address the recent surge in Brexit and Trump. The result is Turner’s attempt to tip the scales and get us talking more about the world going to shit rather than staring at our phones waiting for the end, featuring a palette of processed drums, synthesizers and radio-ready anthems.
Frank has often said in interviews leading up to the record about the influence that The Homeless Gospel Choir and Arkells both had on this record, so it’s an absolute treat that both are opening up this evening. The Homeless Gospel Choir (Derek Zanetti) takes to the crowd completely unplugged with a new song about the President called ‘With God on Our Side’ before moving onstage. Even in this huge space, Derek brings the intimacy of a basement show to the O2 Academy. Introducing each song as a ‘protest’ song, Derek’s unique sense of humour and vulnerable lyrics capture the crowd. One particular highlight was ‘Musical Preference’, which reels off a list of bands and states “but I can like you, even though your musical preference is shit”.
Arkells join Derek onstage for the final song ‘Normal’, having a band behind him really propels the urgency of his songs. The chorus is ready for this room and gets the first big singalong of the evening. Arkells seamlessly carry on with their set following Derek’s departure, opening up their set with ‘Knocking at the Door’. Frontman Max Kerman’s stage presence is unrivalled and he flaunts with so much charisma and energy. With every song, there is an increased energy in the room. For the last chorus of ‘Private School’, he brings a member of the audience up on stage to play guitar. A real highlight of their set was ‘Leather Jacket’, which features a very radio-ready chorus, which has yet reach the airwaves here.
Tonight is a celebration of Frank’s discography as well as putting a focus on what is to come. Debuting a lot of new material this evening, there’s a lot of energy in the first play of ‘Little Changes’ since its release (which was only 24 hours prior), earning a mass singalong in the chorus. Easily a future favourite within Frank’s live shows, and you can see how much he enjoys playing the newer material as he skips around the stage. Some fans even went the extra mile to learn the dance routine from the video – could this become a new fixture?
Does the perfect Frank Turner set list exist? Not one that can be done in the space of two hours. There are many omissions from this evening. Most notably, ‘If Ever I Stray’, ‘Long Live the Queen’ and ‘Wessex Boy’. With such a stacked back catalogue, it must be difficult for Frank to decide which songs stay in rotation. Some of the staples are starting to wear a bit thin; in particular, ‘Photosynthesis’ feels a bit dragged out after hearing it more than a few times live. Credit to him for drawing from every album however, and trying to please old fans as well as introduce new ones.
The encore featured the debut full band performance of ‘Don’t Worry’, one particular highlight that introduces Be More Kind. The processed handclaps and simplistic nature of the song could make it a future live staple, with Frank addressing the vague nature of politics now and stating “don’t worry, if you don’t know what to do”. Another new thing seen on this tour is ending the set on the recent songbook version of ‘Polaroid Pictures’, even making reference to one of the first times Frank was in Leicester playing a venue called The Charlotte, which has since closed. Although it isn’t necessarily his biggest hit to end on, it’s the sentiment that matters and it’s at this point the audience have their arms around each other singing back “hold close to the ones that you love”, reminding people not to take moments like this for granted.
Photos by Dan Hess.